As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom.... -- Colossians 3:12-16a
The word "forgiveness" has been in everything I have read in the last couple of days. I have written about the importance of forgiveness before. I know how important it is to forgive people. But Merton writes even more strongly about it:
"God has left sin in the world in order that there may be forgiveness: not only the secret forgiveness by which He Himself cleanses our souls, but the manifest forgiveness by which we have mercy on one another and so give expression to the fact that He is living, by His mercy, in our own hearts." (No Man is An Island, pg. 208)
Sin is in the world so that we learn that God forgives us, and so that we can practice this same forgiveness. Really? In my mind I hear the words, "With the forgiveness you forgive, so shall you be forgiven." Did Jesus say those words? Or did he say, "With the judgment you judge, so shall you be judged"? The two sentiments are certainly tied together.
Yesterday I opened the book, "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff," by Richard Carlson, PhD., and read, "See the Innocence" (pg.93): "For many people, one of the most frustrating aspects of life is not being able to understand other people's behavior. We see them as 'guilty' instead of 'innocent.'" Carlson writes that we should take a step back and try to understand the situation from that person's point of view, or put ourselves in the same position. Often we will see their innocence, and feel compassion towards them, instead of feeling judgmental.
I am reminded of the story in the Bible where Jesus is visiting Simon the Pharisee, and a woman comes to wash Jesus' feet with her tears and dry his feet with her hair. Simon looks down on the woman because he sees her guilt -- she has committed many sins. Jesus looks at the woman with compassion, because he sees her innocence, the love behind her sins. He says, "She who has loved much is forgiven much." (Luke 7:44-47)
And yet, the passage from Colossians above also says to "admonish one another in all wisdom." How do you admonish another adult? I have yet to figure out how to do this effectively. Usually, when I am vocally judgmental, I end up in a turmoil of regret. Looking back at these different times, I see in each of these situations that I was looking down at that person from my high horse. I was thinking that I am in the right, and they are in the wrong, that I am better, they are worse. Each time I do this, I am quickly knocked right off my horse by the recognition of my own sinful behavior. Jesus said, "Why do you notice the speck in your neighbor's eye, but miss the log in your own?" Never were more truer words spoken in my case.
Perhaps, recognizing our own behavior ahead of time in the flaws we see in others is the key. Perhaps that is what is meant by "wisdom": knowing that you are just as guilty as the one you want to correct. I think knowing this, understanding my perfect equality with my flawed neighbor, would help me approach the task of "admonishing" with all the charity and love I could muster, for I would also be correcting myself.
Merton writes, "Some people never reveal any of the good that is hidden in them until we give them some of the good, that is to say, some of the charity, that is in ourselves. We are so much the children of God that by loving others we can make them good and lovable, in spite of themselves." (pg. 170)
Just as God does for us.
Dear God, thank you for loving me with a love that knows no bounds. May I learn to love others with the same unconditional love. Love always, Pam